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Mitsubishi plugs in to the hybrid revolution

06:01 16 October 2014

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has quickly established itself as the UK's best-selling plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has quickly established itself as the UK's best-selling plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi really is on a charge with its Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid wooing buyers, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

There’s four little letters on the back of the latest version of the Outlander sport utility vehicle which spell out a new direction for Mitsubishi, which is celebrating 40 years in the UK.

The Outlander itself is nothing new but the range has been boosted with the arrival of the PHEV – standing for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle – which has already become Britain’s most popular plug-in hybrid, no mean achievement even in a comparatively small market.

Badging aside, the most obvious difference on the outside from the turbo diesel version are the two filler flaps – the nearside one for the petrol tank, the offside one revealing two charging points for domestic and fast-charger leads.

The Outlander PHEV combines a 119bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, driving the front wheels, with two electric motors, one on each axle, to give automatic all-wheel drive with power redistributed to the rear wheels if the front ones lose grip. And if the going gets really slippery you can lock the system into four-wheel drive mode at the press of a button.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX4hs

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX4hs, £34,999 (including £5,000 government grant)

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol, four-cylinder turbo petrol and twin electric motors producing combined 200bhp

Transmission: Single-speed transmission with electric motors driving the wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 11 seconds; top speed 106mph

MPG: 148 combined

CO2 emissions: 44g/km

What makes the Outlander PHEV really attractive is that on a full charge you can travel up to 32.5 miles at motorway speeds but, as with conventional fossil fuels, the faster you go the quicker you use the charge. Charging takes up to five hours from a domestic 13-amp supply for about £1 at the standard tariff and you can also charge from a 16-amp source while a fast-charger will give an 80% charge in 30 minutes.

The biggest bone of contention though will be what you can get to the gallon. Mitsubishi says the average daily commute is 25 miles so, driven gently, you could be running all the time on battery alone in pure electric vehicle (EV) mode and, by keeping it charged up, avoid using the petrol engine at all. Mitsubishi’s official average is 148mpg but driving style and journeys are going to be the major influences.

During my time with the Outlander PHEV, and some very mixed motoring, I covered a lot of short journeys in EV mode alone, a mixture of petrol and battery driving saw 65 to 95mpg while a long motorway run resulted in 35mpg overall which is considerably worse than the diesel.

Electric power is the default mode from standstill and means a brisk getaway off the lights in urban driving with a healthy slug of torque from standstill – one passenger likened the sound to a London Tube train picking up but without the rattles. And it doesn’t hang around when you floor the throttle on the open road, when the engine comes to life too, although kicking down the CVT automatic gearbox sees both the revs and noise levels surge. Once cruising it is so quiet that you are more aware of tyre noise.

So the message is clear – if you spend a lot of time poodling along in urban traffic with lots of braking and slowing down, which also trickles charge back into the battery so prolonging range (you can raise or lower the regenerative braking level via paddles behind the steering wheel or gear lever), you really reap the benefits of this hybrid. Under acceleration, or when the battery is getting low, the engine acts as a generator to put electric power through the battery to the front wheels (series hybrid mode) and for high-speed driving the engine drives the front wheels, assisted by the electric motors when needed, while also charging the battery (parallel hybrid mode). But if you do a lot of long, fast runs then the diesel is probably going to be the best option.

And this is where Mitsubishi has been very clever for, after taking off the £5,000 government plug-in car grant, the entry-level GX3h Outlander PHEV is the same price as the automatic diesel equivalent while GX4h and GX4hs cost slightly more due to added equipment so if the hybrid meets your needs you won’t be paying a premium to be ‘green’.

Given the hi-tech nature of the car the fascia is simple and logical with the rev counter making way for a gauge to show charging, eco and power modes to encourage being light on the throttle while the driver information display includes petrol and electric range, the power source and economy figures.

Other than that, the PHEV drives like the conventional Outlander. If it was a race course, the going would be good to soft so it ably soaks up roadworks-scarred surfaces in the urban environment where the Outlander PHEV is in its element. But that softish suspension means some body roll if you press on along twisty roads but the sort of person opting for the Outlander PHEV is probably more intent on economy and the enviroment than out-and-out driving excitement.

The extra hybrid hardware and battery pack has done away with the two rearmost seats in the boot so the PHEV has five, rather than seven, seats with a huge amount of leg and headroom in the back. The boot offers a useful 463 litres but the floor is quite high.

The Outlander PHEV takes Mitsubishi into the green car market and, with its early success, proves that life begins at 40.

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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